As a child, I used to pass through the bustling Zaibunnisa Street in Saddar, Karachi every day while going to school. There was something about the Saddar area, where my school was, which made me feel complete. It was as though my surroundings breathed an entire history of the city. The magnificent, white St Patrick’s Cathedral and a small but flamboyant mandir in a neighbourhood in Guru Mandir - the presence of these places made me form a story in my mind of the city when it was an eclectic mix which reflected tolerance among the masses. These places speak of the time when our society was inclusive, when a Christian was as free to pay a visit to the Church on Sundays as a Muslim was to visit a mosque on Fridays. However, the intolerance towards religious minorities, which started mere decades ago, and has taken a rise recently, has instilled a fear in me – a fear of living in a city void of its true colours, which are fading behind the dust and smoke of bombs and guns. The recent killing of a Sikh boy, Jagmohan Singh, in Peshawar and the twin blasts in a church in the same city in 2013, are reflective of a future in which the minorities of the country will either reduce to texts in history books or keep themselves discreet enough so as to stay safe from the intolerant mobs.
Initially, there were the extremist groups which were nurtured by successive governments. Now, the intolerance from them has over-spilled, and the air of hatred has started taking over the masses under cover. The intimidation of the religious minorities has formed angry mobs out of people who might have otherwise been ‘normal’. In May last year, some people (not terrorists) attacked and destroyed Joseph Colony, a largely Christian area in Lahore. They did so after a resident was accused of blasphemy. I wish people gave as much consideration to other laws, as they give to the blasphemy law. Although this law is meant to safeguard the integrity of Muslim beliefs, it is often used to snap at religious minorities.
If such events continue to happen unabashedly, I’m afraid that the temples which, to some extent, are still alive and frequented by people of many colourful beliefs will cease to exist. The generations to come will merely learn about such diversity in books and will never be able to feel it on their skins.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 21st, 2014.
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